Monday 26 August 2013


Why do we write books? In my case, it helps me to think. I would hardly know what I thought about something unless I had struggled to construct an argument and written it down. As I brought my seventh book to completion, a friend, Mark Alder, encouraged me to compile a list that gives some sense of what they are about and why I wrote them. (Incidentally, the bookplate on the left is by my grandmother, Florence Zerffi.) – Stratford Caldecott

The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings (Crossroad, 2005, 2011) 
Originally called Secret Fire when first published by DLT, the book was translated into several foreign language editions including Spanish, Italian, and Russian, and re-issued by Crossroad in an expanded edition in 2012. The Power of the Ring, unlike most other books published on Tolkien’s writing, explores the spiritual, theological, and philosophical meaning of the work – Tolkien’s faith, which was influenced by the Oratory of St Philip, his attempt to recover the spirit of England that had been almost lost in the two

Saturday 17 August 2013

How we know

This is a golden age of scientific discovery. Nevertheless, the most basic things about ourselves remain a mystery. What is consciousness, for example? It is clearly correlated with processes happening in the brain, but that’s not what I mean. What is it, in the sense of what is it made of? It obviously isn’t made of matter or energy. Matter and energy are things we think about, things we are conscious of, but they are not what we are conscious with.

And how do we know what is true or false? Not because one neuron has triggered another. The reasons we give for our beliefs depend on logic and the laws of thought, not on what happens to be going on in our head. If another neuron had fired, it wouldn’t have changed the truth or falsity of the statement I have just made.

Catholic philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas have a theory of knowledge. In one way, it is quite close to modern empiricism. It says we base our knowledge on what the senses reveal to us. (Nihil in intellectu quod non fuit prius in sensu.) But it is what we do with what the senses give us that make it interesting. The Thomistic theory says that we subject it to a process of

Sunday 11 August 2013

Tolkien and Hopkins

You might like to compare Tolkien's "Ainulindale" (the Elvish account of the creation of the world through music, in The Silmarillion), with the following meditation on the Exercises of St Ignatius by Gerard Manley Hopkins, taken from The Notebooks and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins (OUP, 1937), pp. 348-51.
"The angels, like Adam, were created in sanctifying grace, which is a thing that affects the individual, and were then asked to enter into a covenant or contract with God which, as with Adam, should give them an original justice or status and rights before God. The duties of this commonwealth were, for them, to contribute each in his rank, hierarchy, and own species, towards the Incarnation and the great sacrifice. Sister Emmerich saw this under the figure of the building of a tower: it might perhaps also be called a temple and a church. It was in fact the Church and the heavenly Jerusalem. It is also compared to a concert of music, the ranks of the angelic hierarchies being like notes of a scale and a